FIMS Profile

Matt Stahl
Associate Professor

FIMS & Nursing Building Room 4136
Phone: 519-661-2111 x86999

University of Western Ontario
London, Ontario, Canada N6A 5B7
Fax: 519-661-3506


BA Mass Communication, University of California, Berkeley (1999)

PhD. Communication, University of California, San Diego (2006)

Book: Unfree Masters: Recording Artists and the Politics of Work (Duke, 2013)

My research and teaching involve and bring together several empirical and analytical concerns. These are (in no particular order):

  • - Creative/cultural/artistic labour and property
  • - Labour theory of value and the “new reading of Marx”
  • - Popular music and the recorded music industries
  • - Genealogy of the recording contract
  • - Race, royalties, and intellectual property
  • - Law as constitutive to modern social practice
  • - History and prehistory of capitalism
  • - Debt, austerity, and the media
  • - Subjectivity, affect, emotion (e.g. the “production of subjectivity”)
  • - Digitalization and reorganization of music business models
  • - Social and political theory

Continuing research & writing projects (as of March 2019):

Recorded music, race, and royalties. This research focuses on the efforts by aging R&B artists (and their allies) to secure royalties they claim were unfairly denied by their 1950s & 60s record companies (and later by the bigger companies that bought those smaller companies). Beginning in the mid-1980s, Ruth Brown, Sam Moore, and many other stars of R&B and soul music stepped up their struggles to bring their companies to account. Supported by pro-bono attorneys, black politicians and activists, and mainstream stars of pop and rock, these singers started a movement that came to be known as “royalty reform,” which led to the creation of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, the recalculating of royalties dating back decades and many increases in surviving artists’ royalty rates, and a major settlement against the singers’ pension and health systems.

The genealogy of the recording contract. This research identifies a significant trajectory in the commodification of (singers’) professional labour, linking Kesha’s recent contract struggles back to those of a German opera singer in London in the early 1850s. The 1850s cases of Johanna Wagner and two London opera producers, Benjamin Lumley and Frederick Gye, not only prefigure and make possible Kesha’s 2010 and 2014 cases involving producers David Sonnenberg and Lukasz Gottwald, they also hinge upon cases and statutes dating back to fourteenth century England. The analytical frame here centrally includes perspectives on gender and labour, history of capitalism and contract, law and labour regulation, and the labour theory of value.

Occupational music-making, remuneration, and social identity: music performance and recording contracts, 1900-2000. This collaborative work with Dr. Olufunmilayo Arewa (professor of law, Temple University), aims to bring new clarity to the analysis of political economy and social relations of music-making in the US. A larger aim is thus to incorporate analyses of the following three matters of concern: 1) record company accounting and business practices; 2) the laws, contexts, and norms that (are meant to) give meaning to and regulate those practices; 3) the experiences of music performers who depend on those practices for their livings.

Ants and grasshoppers: An introduction to debt, austerity, and the media. For the last several years I have been teaching an advanced undergraduate class on debt, austerity, and the media. Discussions with students about a wide range of readings, films, television shows, and animated cartoons have made it clear to me that media and communication studies perspectives on economic life and economic subjectivity—particularly with respect to what Maurizio Lazzarato calls “the debt economy” of post-2008, continuing financial crisis society—have much to offer. Aesop’s fable of the ants and the grasshopper runs through a wide range of economic, historical, and sociological literatures, and links numerous films, TV shows, and other media. While the grasshopper merrily fiddles all summer long, the ants are busy storing up food for the winter. When winter comes, the grasshopper, starving, freezing, near death, begs the ants for food and warmth in their shelter. The appearances of “ant” and “grasshopper” types in many guises across many media (e.g. Germans and Greeks in popular representations of the Euro crisis, Porky Pig and his lazy, starving neighbour in a Warner Bros. cartoon, French villagers and the eponymous Vagabond in Agnes Varda’s film) reveal a moralistic, justificatory framework for using debt to distinguish the deserving from the undeserving.

Yes I am a 'maker' too:

Matt's band.